Klipsch La Scala AL5 loudspeaker Page 2

The La Scalas' sound varies remarkably depending on amplification, and they demand and reward high quality; the prospect of them being driven by a big-box-store receiver fills me with sadness. Choosing the right amplifier to use with them wasn't entirely straightforward and required a fair amount of trial and error. The Klipsches' sky-high sensitivity may suggest otherwise, but a single measurement never tells the whole story. I listened to them with five amplifiers controlled by the superbly transparent and tuneful PrimaLuna EVO 400 line stage; here's what I heard.

Ayre AX-5 Twenty: The Ayre is a lush and musically compelling solid state amplifier, but through the La Scalas it sounded pretty analytical, buttoned-up, and dry. Though one shouldn't generalize from limited experience, I'm going to: The La Scalas love tubes.

Oliver Sayes SET with 307a output tubes: This fairly "tubey" sounding design, producing 6W per channel, emitted beautiful tone, but in this application it lacked resolution and sounded a bit gooey. And while it made copious bass, that bass was poorly defined and slow. The La Scalas seemed to want a more neutral tonal balance and more grip.

Western Electric 91E: The big Western resolved scads of detail and sounded both liquid and well-controlled. Well, nearly. On "Lively Up Yourself " from Bob Marley's Natty Dread (LP Island ILPS 9281), Aston "Family Man" Barrett's electric bass sounded a bit listless, lagging behind the rest of the music. And the 91E couldn't quite unlock the highest level of dynamic expression the speakers are capable of. To generalize again, those wishing to drive the La Scalas with a low-powered (sub-20W) tube amplifier, particularly of the single-ended persuasion, may not get stellar results. Try them together before buying.

Line Magnetic LM-845IA: The swaggering 22W made by the ferociously hot 845 triodes in this amplifier proved a fantastic match for the Klipsches. Barrett's bass notes landed like the jabs of a welterweight, and the recording danced and strutted in a most convincing fashion. The Chinese amp also created a smooth, utterly grainless sound with saturated tone colors and unraveled lots of ambient information without drawing undue attention to it in the manner of some more analytical amps. Wooo!

Manley Mahi Mahi: Especially in Ultralinear mode, with the negative feedback set to minimum, these push-pull EL84 monoblocks from EveAnna Manley succeeded in squeezing maximum dynamics from the La Scalas while imbuing recordings with gorgeous color, pace, and all the detail you might wish for. Compared to the Line Magnetic, they presented an even more propulsive, harder hitting sound, sacrificing just a bit of liquidity, texture, and presence. Another goosebump-inducing match.

Now that you know something about how the La Scalas sound, you may be wondering about a more pressing issue: How do they communicate music? For me, sound quality and musical engagement are tied up most directly in the experience of dynamics: It's in the infinite gradations of intensity that intent and meaning in music are most acutely expressed. In "God Is in the Nuances," the most thought-provoking article I've read in this magazine, Markus Sauer (footnote 2) quotes (and somewhat awkwardly translates) French audio and music journalist Jean-Marie Piel, who describes this connection with more elan and poetry than I can muster:

"The essence of a [musical] interpretation lies in working on the infinitely small—be it an attack on a note held back for a fraction of a second (perceptible if the preceding note is reproduced neither too short nor too long), or be it a note that develops in itself; or, on a larger level, a crescendo or diminuendo encompassing several notes—all of which gives music a sense of direction, its palpable dynamics, its quivering life, and all of which, in the end, lies in the nuances.

"Which explains, by the way, why certain old loudspeakers with a very high sensitivity and thus a very high precision in the rendition of dynamics, especially of very small signals—just like certain tube amplifiers with very simple circuits—and despite more or less obvious colorations and the omission of an octave or two, manage to reproduce with disturbing fidelity all the emotional intensity of an interpretation. Which should give our designers something to think about, and convince them that the musically more important kind of dynamics is that which loses itself in silence, not the kind that turns into noise."

The La Scalas' remarkable sonic realism would be pointless if they weren't also masterful at revealing the "quivering life" Piel is talking about. Luckily, they excel at excavating the musical drama of a recording, allowing records to startle and engage with more regularity than the vast majority of speakers of any size and price. Through them the music breathes, shouts, and whispers.

I live in a loft, or essentially a single large room. On a recent morning, I put on a recording of Ali Akbar Khan playing Rag Alam Bhairav, a morning raga, as quiet background music while doing some stretching and working out. Though I was trying to focus on my stubbornly inflexible joints, I became so enthralled by the sarod's woody resonance and amber tone, and by the kaleidoscopic shadings of sound and meaning that Khan extracted from it, that I ended up sitting on the floor and listening to the music lunge and dance until the 28-minute track was over.

This level of engagement characterized my time with the La Scalas. After some listening sessions, I was so emotionally wrung out that I felt tired and needed to walk away from music for a while.

Last year, at Jim Austin's urging, I began a series of reviews to explore whether I could find what I loved about my 1967 Altec Valencias in a current-production speaker. The California-made Altecs excel at dynamic expression and scale, yet the larger La Scalas lap them in both categories, simply offering more. These speakers from Arkansas (whose design predates the Valencias) also energize my loft in a more satisfying way, perhaps due to their greater sensitivity and directionality. The Altecs, in turn, sound a bit more natural and reproduce drums with more snap and presence. They have a little more filigree and soul. Yet the La Scalas are even more adept at musical drama and spectacle and have proven second to none at making me turn off my phone and listen.

The Klipsch La Scalas have been in constant production for 59 years, longer than all but a tiny handful of audio products, and this is surely not an accident. (Happily, it also means that secondhand examples, available for a fraction of their current price, are relatively common.) They aren't perfect, and they require a large room and a suitable amplifier, but they offer the closest thing I've heard to a musical performance taking place in my home. They do this as reliably with solo viola as they do with Minor Threat. Best of all, they provide as direct a route as I've found to hours of musical engagement—to embodying what Sakuma-san described as "endless energy with sorrow," to which I would add love, rage, humor, and elation. $13,198 is an investment, but it will buy you some of the most sonically irrepressible and musically communicative speakers in the known cosmos. They just may sustain you for life.

Footnote 2: Markus Sauer was a valued contributor to Stereophile. Sadly, he passed away in 2015.—John Atkinson

Klipsch Group, Inc.
3502 Woodview Trace
IN 46268
(317) 860-8100

remlab's picture

I was definitely not expecting to see that.

georgehifi's picture

It's -10dB down at 45hz for a speaker the size of a fridge!!!! with a broadband bump at 150hz of +5db to make up for it.
I owned a pair of the originals to see what all the hoo-ha was about, sure they went loud without too much stress (so does a PA system) but boy were they colored, they lasted a couple of weeks.

Cheers George

carewser's picture

In fairness to Klipsch I mean how much bass can one expect when you only spend $13,000 for a pair of speakers?

m_ms's picture

Price has no bearing here, but rather physics as laid out by Hoffman's Iron Law:

"three parameters that cannot all be had at the same time. They are low-bass reproduction, small (enclosure) size, and high (output) sensitivity." Hofmann stated that designers could pick two of these three parameters, but in doing so, it would compromise the third parameter."

The La Scala's are a high efficiency, (all)horn-loaded design, and their restricted size for a bass horn means you sacrifice low end extension. Not only that they also stop acting as a horn from just above 100Hz on down, which means they're essentially too small as a midbass horn also. With horns, all-horns not least and certainly for them to be their best, there's no escaping size.

remlab's picture


jack_lint_1984's picture

On behalf of the International Committee on Complaining, I wanted to personally commend you, George, on your performance here - ever diligent, never satisfied.

Bravo! As we like say in the trade, pleasure is overrated!

Glotz's picture

Well put. George still has a lot to offer.. just delivery methods.

jimtavegia's picture

My favorite has always been the Cornwall, but I have never lived in a house with a living room large enough that would make them work, sadly. I have heard them sing with a small 40 watt/channel EL34 tube amp.

DougM's picture

The La Scalas, and the mighty K'Horns, are more capable than any others of bringing the performance into your room, with an immediacy and effortless dynamism that sounds more like live music than any other speaker I've ever heard at any price. My bucket list speaker.

Toobman's picture

The warranty is 10 years, not 5 as stated in the specifications. Also, there are no rubber feet supplied as the reviewer stated. I know because I just bought a pair. Further, I set the speakers up all by myself and it was not difficult. I'm 58 and in average shape. I can't imagine why the reviewer would suggest it takes 3 people to mate the upper and lower cabinets.

michelesurdi's picture

horns amplify noise.were the scalas silent with the amps you mention?

FransZappa's picture

I'd like to ask you how
You like the feel of the bass in your face in the crowd

I have bought my Scala's about three years ago and they have never ceased to amaze me. My amp is an Elekit TU8600R - 300B and 9.2Wpc and my room is not exactly big. Believe me: it does do bass, not stomach turning low but very real life like bass. Gary Peacock is standing in front of you - like bass. It plays the Beasties and Aphex Twin and never has anyone sitting next to me commented about a lack of bass. Tom Waits' scrapyard percussion sounds fantastic and they unravel Zappa's genial madness brilliantly. And the Scalas are deadquiet with my amp. The last speakers I will ever need.

vince's picture


Try a sub, I tried a JL Audio Fathom and it brought a new level of enjoyment of my La Scala.

ejlif's picture

I agree, I have a pair of older ones and have had a lot of other speakers and stuff costing way more and with the La Scala it's like it really happening in front of you. For me the bass is good and almost but just not quite enough, sometimes it's fine other times I feel it's lacking a little. I added a HSU sub and it works good, it's the first time I've had a sub and been able to stand it.

Toobman's picture

Why does the reviewer say they can be bi-wired but not bi-amped? One set of posts goes to the mid/hi drivers and the other set goes to the woofer, so they should be able to be biamped.

Alex Halberstadt's picture

Thanks for the catch, Toobman. My mistake. I'll make the change.


FredisDead's picture

my enduring love for the Manley Steelhead until I read this piece of audio journalism dreck. I immediately concluded that Jim Austin must have decided it would be "cute" to review some audio icons-of-yore and even cuter if they were given rave reviews. How would that not create some stir among the ol' geezer subscribers?
As it so happens I recently heard a newer set of these speakers and I could not get over how they sounded-old, tired, slow, soporific (Ambien soporific) outdated, disassociated, discontinuous, unnatural, etc. Dynamics? What good is lack of compression when you are overwhelmed by crass treble, scratchy midrange, and soft bass, all failing to integrate and instead sticking out like three sore thumbs?
Which leads to only one inevitable head scratching inquiry-has Stereophile truly, once and for all, jumped the shark?

jack_lint_1984's picture

Have you ever been to an arena sporting event? If you have, you’ll have noticed certain people in the crowd screaming at the players, as if their opinions are more important than the action unfolding in front of them. As if the professionals should stop play and pay attention to every voice in the crowd.

You, FredisDead, are one of those screaming fans.

FredisDead's picture

I don't yell at players, don't go to arena sporting events, don't drink beer, and don't know what rock you crawled out from either. Am I such a person in your tiny mind for expressing a different view and relating it to editorial policy? It is simply ludicrous to call the La Scala competitive with modern designs and I chose to express my opinion here where the piece originated. This is a subjective hobby but it is hard to imagine that most would find this product capable of providing a fraction of the performance of most modern designs. I happen to be a fan of easy to drive efficient loudspeakers and my personal choices (Devores and Spendors)are 93 db/W/M and 90 db/W/M efficient without difficult phase angles or impedance curves. I simply disagree with the flowery language used to describe their sound.

rschryer's picture

"...the flowery language used to describe their sound." You should've started with that.

jack_lint_1984's picture

You are the kind of person who acts like a childish bully hoping it makes you seem less...Defensive? Sensitive? Afraid?

You disagree with the reviewer and prefer your choices in speakers. Not exactly revelatory stuff, FredisDead, especially without all of your flowery machismo.

georgehifi's picture

The forum cop or something??? Go away and let people have their say.
Argue the point not the person!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

jack_lint_1984's picture

Are you the forum cop, georgehifi? This is so confusing ;-)

georgehifi's picture


georgehifi's picture

No look at it again, YOU JUMP ON MEMBERS PERSONALLY if you don't agree with them, instead of opposing their statements with something tangible from your mouth.

jack_lint_1984's picture

FredisDead's comment was pure dreck and I have to wonder if he was just trying to be "cute" to anger the old geezers or if he's completely jumped the shark.

georgehifi's picture

It's his opinion on these Klipsch speakers, and he didn't attack YOU PERSONALLY!!!
You should do the same and attack his views on THEM NOT HIM in a subjective or objective way technically or whatever, and lay off him personally.!!! Otherwise your just being a redneck.

jack_lint_1984's picture

I just re-used his exact words. FredisDead's words. The fact that you didn't see that makes me wonder if you actually read the things you comment on...

Unless you think its OK to "personally attack" Stereophile's reviewers and Editor, you should also aim your outrage at FredisDead.

I have to point out that complaining about a perceived personal attack wherein you personally attack the perceived attacker is not a great way to make a point or set a standard of conduct.

Anton's picture

You beat me to it.

Audiophiles are an amazingly disgruntled lot. Likely the amount of rancor from a person is inversely proportional to his auditory acuity.

jack_lint_1984's picture

If so thank you, if not apologies. I'm new here, long time reader, and our grandchildren coaxed me into 'participating' so forgive my clumsiness.

Disgruntled! About hi-fi? About listening to music? I imagine it's a byproduct of free time, something that was in short supply back in the day. And on that note, this 'participating' may not be for me. Listening to music is a luxury, at least it is for me, so I've got no interest in arguing over the means to that end.

Anton's picture

Yes, I meant that as a compliment to your post!

I did not mean to impugn audiophiles, in general....just some.

Cheers, and pleased to meet you!

FredisDead's picture

just opinionated. If the loudspeaker that is the subject of this review is a "great" loudspeaker, than what loudspeaker that produces some degree of sound is not? Are any of the loudspeakers sold at large appliance stores really all that bad? How are they inferior to the La Scalas?
It is the lack of relativism that provoked my first post. If the gist of the subjective review was that they bring a lot to the table and offer plenty of good attributes despite having some shortcomings (including being huge for the sake of so-so bass response), I would have been fine with the review.
Re-reading it, I see that the lack of holographic imaging and a slight "euphonic" character is mentioned at the conclusion.
In the bigger scheme of things, my gripe is with being far too complimentary to virtually any product under review. This particular outdated, limited, and highly compromised product captured the cover of the magazine.

JHL's picture

...because demands for tolerance are never tolerant.

To extend the arena metaphor, don't be mad guy shrieking for the ref to penalize the player who finally hits back. I'm with jack: When a driveby commenter drops in just to attack the publication and its readers I assume the only tone he understands is that tone. He's declared war on everybody; who are you to impose decorum on the victims, mister punctuation?

If high end audio doesn't maintain then it won't be maintained. That would be unacceptable.

georgehifi's picture

Well your just as bad then

TK-421's picture

I've heard plenty of Spendors and they are a boring snoozefest compared to La Scalas, not to mention way overpriced for performance you get compared to others. Just expressing my opinion.

Glotz's picture

Love that phrase... I wish could've stuck 'narky' in there too. LOL, just kidding.

ejlif's picture

I'd take the La Scalas in a heartbeat over the Kef Blade 2. I owned both at the same time and I find the Kef bland and boring. We all like what we like. I'm not going to say I'm right and you are wrong, I just don't hear it like you do obviously. Some folks think the new top gun movie is a good film to those folks I would just say I won't be watching any movies you recommend. If you think the La Scalas sound that bad then I would not take a shred of your hifi advice either.

Staxguy's picture

My first loudspeakers were Klipsch Heressy Ii’s (x3) and Klipsch KG 1.2’s. The store that sold them also sold La Scalas. For bass, I had a Velodyne F1500r. At the time I would have preferrered a Carver Amazing Loudspeaker with ribbons and four 12 inch drivers per side, but couldn’t fit or budget them. Noted that I preferred the kg 1.2 bookshelf speakers for music over the heresy’.


The Klipsch horn systems really sounded honkey to me. Ok for dynamics. I much preferred a friends home theatre with 5 psb stratus gold speakers and five velodyne f1500rs, which I later upgraded to. A bit overkill in the bass though.

Obviously now, I prefer electrostatics. Quite the opposite of horns.

The new la scalas as pictured are drop dead gorgeous. Perhaps Klipsch has upgraded the sound also. The price is quite reasonable, at that of a high end phono cartridge.

My auditions at the time don’t quite pass muster, today, 30 plus years later.

I appreciate the article. As for realistic audio, the only speakers which sounded live to me were the focal grande utopia iii em, which I auditioned when they came out many years back.

Still, I wonder how a Bob carver design of today would compare to the La Scala.

Electrophone's picture

I was enthusiastic about hi-fi as a teenager, but could only afford the most basic equipment. A key experience back then was the Klipschorn demonstration in a Frankfurt/Germany hi-fi studio, which I was able to sneak into. I can still remember the track being played: "Silly Putty" by Stanley Clarke. I was deeply impressed by the dynamics and the live character of the playback. Unfortunately I don't remember which amplifier and turntable was used.
A few years later I regularly went to a small nightclub in a suburb of Frankfurt. Two Klipsch La Scala speakers were used there, suspended from the ceiling. No subwoofers! The sound was very good, the bass not too deep, but very defined and powerful.
My last encounter with Klipsch loudspeakers was in 1983 I believe.
Wolfman Jack was then on the "European Tour, sponsored by Klipsch and Phase Linear" and performed in American clubs. He also did a gig at Rhein Main Air Base and an American friend took me with him.
I still have Wolfman Jack's autograph today, and a Polaroid of me with him. I had to pay an extra $20 for the Polaroid back then, on top of the entrance fee!

scottsol's picture

While the Wolfman is long dead, he will be appearing in a late summer tour in the guise of an Elon Musk designed humaniform robot. For maximum durability the robot makes substantial use of tungsten carbide elements.

To avoid possible legal troubles with the WJ estate the simulacrum will be known as Wolfram Jack.

Anton's picture

I am so old, I can remember the 40 (or so) years when "Klipsch sucked."
They couldn't get a good word in the Hi Fi world to save their souls.

Now, they are great, again.

I look at this with some happiness and some cynicism. It's almost hard to discuss. I partially see both sides.

Is it that they figured out what they lacked was simply a healthy bump in price and that got their audiophile bonafides sorted out? Did we slowly wake up to what they do well? Is modern Hi Fi sterile or some adjective that makes us go 'pop' when we hear actual dynamics? No set answer, but great wine conversation!

When we talk money/value: These $1100 per pair in 1978.

I'll leave it to whomever to run that through an inflation calculator. It ain't like they reinvented the wheel, you know.

Anyways....I've always enjoyed them, they have plusses and minuses, of course. But all in all, a fun product! My son stole my La Scalas and is quite the happy audiophile. If you ever get a chance to hear Elvis' vesrion of "Fever" on these, you will know what the fuss is about. (They also play the band Morphine like they were made for each other. As John marks used to say, "Different horses for different courses.")

vince's picture

I have a pair of the La Scala II. I found the bass a bit lean, until I added a JL Audio sub and it became awesome. They image well, they have plenty of slam and dynamic range, and sweet sounds sweet. I have them paired with a 300B SET amp. I'm glad I have them, they can give me goosebumps, given the right recording. The latest example of this was from the Analog Production's reissue of Cat Steven's Tea for the Tillerman.

Anton's picture

I agree.

They are pretty "unboxy."

There is a certain frequency in the upper bass where you can 'hear' that there's an enclosure involved in the sound. It's a bit hard to describe. It's not 'horniness,' but almost like a hint of 'box echo' with the woofer at the upper end of it's frequency range.

You can hear this on something like Joe Jackson's "Another World" with the percussion at the beginning.

teched58's picture

So I will need a subwoofer if I want to get low bass out of my La Scala setup.

Isn't the subwoofer supposed to be the biggest speaker in the room, not the smallest?

tnargs's picture

I have twice had extended auditions with the La Scala, 30 years apart, and decided that they are one of the worst serious speakers I’ve experienced.

Sal1950's picture

Great Review Alex.
But you better run like hell.
Sam Tellig wrote a rav review on the La Scala's here in 2006 and the horn haters nearly stoned him to death.
I owned my La Scala's from 1978 to 2011 when I moved to Fl and didn't have the room for them here. Like every speaker before and since, they have their weak points and strong points. The things they do right, they do better then almost any speaker ever made.
Wish I still had the room for a pair.
cent' anni,

ejlif's picture

I was excited to see what AH thought of the La Scala. That he is a fan of Altec makes me curious. I own the La scala myself, grabbed a pair at a garage sale beat up and cheap. They really caught my attention when I hooked them up for a garage system and in the house they came and put them down in front of my Kef Blade speakers. they turned my hifi world upside down. Kefs are gone, La scala were made pretty with new veneer and cleaned up. I have more fun and enjoyment listening to my 1978 La Scala with various amps than the expensive various you name it I've had it hifi brands. Alex really sums it up with the descriptions of how music is communicated and yes the bass is a problem, just a little bit of a problem. Many times I thought I could live without a sub but they are just barely lacking. I've managed to integrate a sub (I never have liked subs) and it's just enough. Other types of speakers are nice and present music in a different way but after so many years in the hobby and so many speakers I've landed. Herb reviews and also describes why he is left cold by the tall skinny speakers. They were on to something way back in the day when they made these and other speakers like these. I think I vibe with HR and AH and Art Dudley too as well as Ken Michalief and their opinions on sound and music. JVS and even JA they come from another camp. That' great we all hear it a little different and have a different taste.

steve59's picture

My buddy was, probably still is a klipsch guy, owning the lascala’s and then the big K horns. He was so stunned when the khorns lacked the mid bass boost that he nearly returned them. I remember the lascala’s of the late 80’s having bloated, kind of thick bass, but I’ve learned setup, room size and components can make such a difference in each demo that I take it all with a grain of salt.